Reggio Calabria [AFP]
Italian police say they have arrested a group of African migrants after witnesses said they threw 12 passengers overboard following a row about religion on a boat headed to Europe.
The deadly dispute, which saw a group of Muslim passengers allegedly attack a group of Christian passengers, coincided with reports of a new migrant drowning tragedy.
Four days after a migrant shipwreck off the coast of Libya, in which 400 people are believed to have died, another 41 migrants were missing feared drowned on Thursday after their dinghy sank en route to Italy, Italian media reported.
The stricken vessel was spotted by a plane, which alerted the Italian coastguard but by the time a navy ship arrived at the spot only four passengers were found alive, the reports quoted the police and aid agencies as saying.
The four survivors, who came from Nigeria, Ghana and Niger, said they were part of a group of 45 people that set sail from Libya.
A separate group of migrants rescued by an Italian vessel related a deadly stand-off over religion in their dinghy, which ended in 12 Nigerian and Ghanaian passengers being drowned, the police said.
The victims were ‘of Christian faith, compared to their attackers who were of Muslim faith,’ police in the Sicilian port of Palermo said in a statement.
Fifteen migrants were arrested on suspicion of ‘multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate’, the statement added.
The incident aboard the vessel, which was carrying about 100 migrants, took place in the Strait of Sicily, between Tunisia and Italy.
The remaining passengers were rescued and brought to Palermo, where the 15 alleged attackers, who came from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal, were arrested.
The boat, like many of the vessels flooding Italy’s shores each week with migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, had set out from Libya on Tuesday, according to the survivors.
Italy pleaded for more help from other European Union countries on Thursday to rescue the migrants risking their lives to reach Europe and to share the burden of accommodating the arrivals.